The Competition: Da Vinci’s Disciples, #2
In the late 15th century, six women dare to seek permission from the head of a noble Florentine family and the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, to paint a religious fresco in the Church of Santo Spirito for a local competition. Under the mentorship of Leonardo da Vinci, these women are accomplished artists, forced to practice their art in secrecy because women are forbidden by law to engage in any of the arts. They receive their permission only because de Medici has changed, following the betrayals he endured (as depicted in the previous book, Portrait of a Conspiracy) and his lust for one of the painters, Isabetta.
The author shares with the reader how frescos are produced, a fascinating procedure requiring intricate skill and limitless patience, which all six women embrace. While these feisty women are ostracized and even experience physical abuse, their dynamic nature is obvious as each exhibits a special quality all women yearn to own. Viviana relishes the return and love of a warrior soldier but hesitates to commit herself in marriage, and Natasia risks death to find information that will restore her family’s honor. Their mission is to create beauty that honors their local church and God, and they finish to the acclaim of their patrons.
The plot and its subplots are riveting reading. Finally, a few of the women provide hints of future interest and, if one knows one’s history, potentially immense conflict. What is unique about these women is not only their loyalty as wives, daughters, and mothers, but also the fierceness of their artistic sensibilities, which must find satisfaction in producing works of phenomenal beauty. Superb historical fiction and a must read!